07/17/2006 12:00AM

Churchill's daily handle up a bit


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs wrapped up its 57-day spring meet Sunday with a slight increase in daily average handle. Daily average all-sources handle was $11.4 million, up slightly less than 1 percent from last year.

Total all-sources handle for the meet, which ran one week longer than usual, was $652.3 million, up 11.4 percent over corresponding figures for the 52-day spring meet in 2005.

Ontrack attendance and handle averaged 12,319 and $1.75 million, down 11 and 3 percent, respectively. That handle figure was offset by a 3 percent increase in daily offtrack wagering.

Churchill officials went into the meet suspecting their average ontrack figures might slip compared with last year because of the longer meet and because 2005 "featured the grand unveiling of our $121 million racetrack" renovation, said Churchill president Steve Sexton.

Average field size was 8.14, down marginally from 8.26. Gross purses were $27.6 million, up 9.5 percent over last year.

On the racetrack, Julien Leparoux became the first apprentice in nearly 60 years to win a Churchill meet. Leparoux, who has led the overall standings in North America all year, rode 87 winners to become the first apprentice since Jerry West in 1949 to lead a Churchill meet, according to track officials. Leparoux unseated Rafael Bejarano, who rode 81 winners.

Dale Romans broke his own record for most winners at a meet with 43 wins, four more than his 2003 mark. The title marked the sixth time in seven springs that Romans has won or shared the training title.

Romans's main clients, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, also broke a record for most wins in the owner category. The Ramsey horses won 21 races, surpassing the 19-win threshold that had been attained on six previous occasions, including three by the Ramseys. This was the 11th owner's title won or shared by the Ramseys, a track record.

Toups spots his rivals a head start

Winning the Ellis Park jockey crown has proven to be a springboard to big things in recent years.

Jon Court set an Ellis record by winning five straight titles from 1998-2002, and today he is a proven commodity on the tough Southern California circuit. Rafael Bejarano, easily the leading rider at Ellis in 2003-04, has become one of North America's great young jockeys. And the 2005 Ellis title was a key element in the most productive (nearly $4 million in earnings) of 17-plus years of riding in the United States for Jesus Castanon.

Perhaps more so than in any of those years, the race for the 2006 title appears up for grabs. Even though he will miss the first full week of the meet while serving a suspension, the slight favorite might be Randall Toups, the 17-year-old apprentice who was fourth at the Churchill spring meet with 39 winners. Toups will resume riding July 26 after spotting his rivals a head start.

Toups's suspension stems from a riding infraction in the ninth race on May 29 at Churchill.

Besides Toups, other logical contenders for top-five spots at Ellis include Castanon, Brian Hernandez Jr., John Jacinto, Corey Lanerie, Willie Martinez, John McKee, Miguel Mena, Orlando Mojica, Phil Teator, and Bill Troilo.

Calvin Borel, who had a sensational Churchill meet when third behind the Saratoga-bound duo of Julien Leparoux and Bejarano, will ride only in selected stakes while taking off most of the meet.

* A thunderstorm Friday at Churchill almost led to the 11th and final race on the twilight program being canceled because of darkness. Finally, the storm relented, and the race was run at 8:24 p.m. Eastern, a bit more than 30 minutes later than scheduled.

* Bright One earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in his 7 1/4-length win Saturday in the Forestry Stakes at Churchill. He most likely will make his next start in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 6 at Mountaineer, said trainer Dale Romans.

* Rich in Spirit, the odds-on winner of the Locust Grove Handicap here Saturday, could make her next start in the Grade 1 Beverly D. on Aug. 12 at Arlington Park, said trainer Tom Proctor.

* Take the Ribbon, ($8.80) with Leparoux up, powered to a four-length triumph in the closing-day feature Sunday, the $71,200 Heavenly Cause for 3-year-old fillies.

* Because the meet ended Sunday, there was a mandatory dispersal of the pick six pool, even though there were no perfect tickets. Two tickets with 5 of 6 winners returned $42,157.20 each.